LANSING, Michigan — Parishioners of St. Casimir Catholic Church lined Sparrow Avenue on Aug. 2 getting one last sight of the parish many called home for decades.
Bishop Earl Boyea tied a red ribbon around the doors, leading the crowd of parishioners in prayer one last time.
“I now pronounce this church closed,” Boyea said.
The ribbons tied on the church’s doors marked the end of the parish’s nearly 100-year history, according to the Lansing State Journal. Parishioners celebrated St. Casimir’s last Mass, witnessing the final moments of a church known as a neighborhood fixture in Moores Park.
“It’s awful sad,” said Edward Kulpa. “It’s been a good parish.”
Kulpa, 92, has been a parishioner almost his whole life. He and his wife were married at St. Casimir and his six children grew up in the parish.
For Kulpa and many others, the closing service marked the end of an era.
St. Casimir’s Parish Council voted this spring to close the church, citing changing demographics and the loss of a priest that has not left the parish sustainable.
“I felt at home here,” said Kathy Passariello, a 40-year parishioner and active member within the church. “This was my home.”
“We’re going to miss the friendships,” she said.
Given that St. Casimir was right in the Moores Park neighborhood and served the residents there, it gave the parish a particular flavor, Father Karl Pung said.
“They’re going to miss having a church there,” Pung said. “They knew it as part of their neighborhood.”
Greg Perkowski has been a parishioner since he was about 3 years old. His parents went to St. Casimir, his children attended the parish, he’s been an altar server and a lecturer.
“It’s been a real sense of joy throughout the years,” Perkowski said.
Hopefully, people can take the work parishioners did and the sense of community they built and continue it with a new parish, Perkowski said.
The church opened in 1921 and served Lansing’s growing Polish community.
St. Casimir was up to its third generation of parishioners, Father Bill Lugger said. Lugger spent 24 years as the pastor at St. Casimir and said he’s baptized and married the children or grandchildren of some of the parishioners he first knew.
“It’s been a good ride,” Carl Alspaugh said. He said he knows all things have a life, including a church.
Barbara Alspaugh said she’ll miss the friendships and all the people that have come and gone through the parish.
“It just felt like home after all these years,” Carl Alspaugh said.
The parish first hinted at possibly closing its doors in December, telling parishioners that the dwindling population and lower volume of donations could not sustain St. Casimir. The Diocese of Lansing had planned to review all its parishes’ operations this year.
“Over the last 100 years our parish has been through its ups and downs. Through it all, the Lord has always had a plan for us. Now we have come to the end of those plans,” Pung wrote in a letter to parishioners this spring. “With declining priest numbers and changing demographics, we are no longer able to sustain a healthy, vibrant parish life that will meet the spiritual needs of its people.”
Only about 380 parishioners attend Sunday Mass at St. Casimir, which is lower than other Lansing parishes, the diocese said.
St. Casimir’s would be the first Catholic church closed by the Lansing diocese in almost a decade. It shuttered Holy Cross parish in Lansing in 2009. The Vietnamese Catholic community purchased the building as reopened it as the Parish of Saint Andrew Dung-Lac in 2011.
St. Casimir was more than the faith home for its parishioners, but a place for them to serve the community, Passariello said. She said she’s worried without the parish, that no one will pick up the work St. Casimir contributed to the city.
“It’s been a staple in the neighborhood,” Passariello said.
Barbara Alspaugh said all the parishioners were ready to jump in and help with what the neighborhood needed. That included food banks, outreach programs, fish fries, the annual corn roast, and the efforts of the St. Vincent de Paul Society.
“This community is going to miss us because we do so much work,” Barbara Alspaugh said.
Parishioners had a sense of duty to the neighborhood, Perkowski said.
“It was a force for good in the area,” Perkowski said.
The parish created a community garden, built two houses through Habitat for Humanity, and sponsored and housed immigrant families, Perkowski said.
“There’s a lot of real concrete examples of good works,” Perkowski said. “It’ll be a real loss.”